Identifying the Trade-Offs within the Alberta Irrigation Sector Over the Next 25 Years

Irrigation is the largest consumptive use of water in Alberta.

Approximately 640,000 hectares of Alberta’s agricultural land are irrigated, with about 540,000 hectares located in the 13 Irrigation Districts and the remainder under private irrigation schemes. Given expected increases in the global demand for food, the irrigated area in Alberta’s Irrigation District is expected to increase by an additional 65,000 hectares over the next 25 years. Hence, knowledge of the role of irrigation water use in the economy of the region is critical. Understanding the potential scenarios for the sector over the next 25 years, as well as the associated trade-offs and available management options, is critical for water management decisions and policy development.

Alberta Land Institute will support the synthesis of current information on economic, environmental and social linkages associated with irrigation; projecting future scenarios; and evaluating strategies to address challenges in the sector through this three-phase research program.

“While the natural water supply is likely to decrease in Southern Alberta in the coming decades, the demand is almost certain to rise with increasing socio-economic development and land-use change.  This project will help us to plan our land and water use effectively, to identify and investigate alternatives, and to make best use of our resources.” – Dr. Evan Davies

Systems modeling for sustainable land and water policy in Alberta’s irrigation sector

This three-year research project focuses on the opportunities and risks associated with irrigated agriculture in the province in the short- and long-term. The objective of the program is to identify the relationships between irrigated agriculture and economic, environmental, social and policy factors, and to identify and assess the impacts of alternative management options for the irrigation sector and the province over the next 25 years. First, alternative management options will be identified through literature reviews, meetings with an advisory panel composed of stakeholders and policy makers, and the identification of cause-and-effect relationships between key economic, environmental and social factors. Identified options will then be evaluated using a decision-support tool that considers near- and long-term economic, environmental and social impacts associated with the implementation of each option.

This analysis will be further supported by sub-projects relating to the environmental and economic impacts of various “what-if” scenarios, benefit-cost analysis, analysis of water- and land-use impacts, and analysis of risks and mitigation strategies. These analyses will provide an informed identification and assessment of current and future management options and their impacts for irrigated agriculture and related sectors.